Forgiveness can help break cycle of violence

  • November 27, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - After a gun-wielding 14-year-old killed his son Jason at the local high school, Anglican minister Dale Lang led a memorial service and publicly prayed for the killer and his family. That was 10 years ago, and to this day, the Taber, Alta., resident continues to share his story and message of forgiveness.

Lang was in Toronto Nov. 20 for a restorative justice conference to speak about forgiveness as a means to break a cycle of violence.

“If I was still angry at that young man for taking the life of my son, I would be doing more damage to my wife, to my family and to myself,” Lang said. “If you stay in that anger for any length of time, it will become like a prison, a place that’s very difficult to leave. When we choose to forgive, we can make the choice even though sometimes it’s incredibly difficult and sometimes it will take a while to get to the path of forgiveness.”

The fourth annual restorative justice conference was organized by the Friends of Dismas, a charitable organization that encourages people of faith to get involved in creative and healing ministry to persons touched by crimes. Dismas was “the Good Thief,” crucified with Jesus, who repented his sins.

Lang said anger is a natural response. But many people build a mental wall around themselves and wallow in their anger, keeping the wound open. A woman who approached him after he spoke at a church one day said she couldn’t understand how he forgave the teen. She was still furious at the drunk driver who had killed her daughter 15 years before.

“When I saw the anger in her eyes I began to realize what forgiveness really meant to me and I thanked God for saving me from being trapped in the place that lady lived for 15 years,” he said.

Catholic deacon Mike Walsh, a conference organizer and founder of the Friends of Dismas, said the powerful gift of forgiveness the Langs offered the boy who killed Jason cannot be underestimated.

“I meet guys who are on the other side of the story, where they are the ones who have hurt someone and they know they will probably never be forgiven and they carry that with them forever and sometimes they just stay stuck there,” Walsh said of his work in prison ministry.

Walsh said Lang was right to say that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean reconciliation. Sometimes the offender will never show signs of remorse. But in many cases where a bad decision was made, like in a drunk driving death, often the prosecuted individual is very remorseful, he said. Knowing they are forgiven helps them immensely.

“It really does free the person who has been hurt and allows the other person, if they are remorseful and really want to be forgiven, to move forward,” he said.

Forgiveness and restorative justice are important, Walsh said, to help reintegrate the offender in society and to provide them with friendship and some sense of restoration in their lives, which is a goal of the Friends of Dismas. Helping offenders to forgive people in their own past is also key, he added, as their own abuse or injuries might have led them into a life of crime.

Don, an ex-prisoner who was abused and neglected by his mother and committed his first armed robbery at the age of 12, found healing when he was able to forgive his mother after writing all his anger in a letter.

“I still felt a lot of sadness but basically the hatred I felt was done and it’s pretty liberating,” he said. “God doesn’t say forgive because I’m asking you to or I’m telling you to. He’s saying to forgive because it’s what’s really good for us.” 

For more on Friends of Dismas, see .

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